There were just two seniors on the 2018 roster for Edgewood and while their leadership might be tough to replace, the Wildcats are primed to take another step forward with the number of players returning to the field this season. After snapping a 20-game losing streak to start the season, Edgewood ran all the way to the state semifinals and most of the production that got it there will be back.
As with any AISA team, there has been some turnover due to transfers but Edgewood has shown it knows how to handle change during the offseason after running through three head coaches prior to the start of last season. The Wildcats will look to the returning players as the team’s leaders and a bigger senior class should make the transition seamless this year.
Johnson took over the starting quarterback role as a sophomore last season, setting the Wildcats up for a bright future with him in control. He was not relied on too heavily last season but he held his own and will likely see more responsibilities this year.
Edgewood’s biggest loss likely comes in the backfield as 1,000-yard rusher Kolby Potts departed for Holtville but Wildcat coach Darryl Free said Johnson is ready to become the leader of the offense. Last season, Johnson completed 54 percent of his passes while throwing 13 touchdowns but Free said he has already seen a lot of improvement during the offseason.
Without a workhorse in the backfield, Edgewood may be forced to throw the ball more this season but Johnson is prepared to give his team that option when needed. Plus, he returns with a bulk of his leading receivers back in the fold.
It does not take long to see how Varner stands out on an AISA football field. His size and speed allowed him to make a big impact at receiver despite being a part of a run-first offense last season, finishing with 489 yards and seven touchdowns.
Varner gave Johnson and the Wildcats a deep-ball threat and his explosiveness showed on the field and in the stat sheet. He averaged more than 15 yards per catch last season and even scored two touchdowns on the ground with rushes of 30-plus yards.
During the offseason, Varner has received plenty of attention from college recruiters while attending camps across the state at UAB, Troy and South Alabama. He will also draw a lot of attention from opposing defenses but still expect Varner to be a large part of Edgewood’s offense this season.
Many players do not get much of break as a starter on an AISA team but that can become even more difficult when you are at the line of scrimmage every play. Bazzell, who started on the offensive and defensive lines for Edgewood last season, never let the fatigue affect his play as his impact was felt on both sides of the ball.
Bazzell started most games at left tackle last season but he also filled in at center when the line was shifted around due to an injury. He was often used as the lead blocker, vaulting big plays in Edgewood’s rushing attack all season.
With as good as he was on the offensive line, Bazzell made his biggest impact on defense, finishing with 43.5 tackles and 14.5 tackles for a loss. With one more year in his high school career remaining, fans should look out for Bazzell to continue having an impact for the Wildcats on every down.
Another force for the Wildcats on both sides of the ball, Gordy returns and will likely be played just off the line on most plays. Gordy spent most of his time as a linebacker and a tight end last season but played at defensive end and fullback.
Gordy finished the season with 42.5 tackles, including 6.5 for a loss, while also getting six offensive touches for 32 yards. He could see more responsibilities as a tight end if the Wildcats focus more on the passing attack this season but his impact on defense should still be Gordy’s biggest contribution to the team.
During his junior season, there were times it felt like Williams lived in the opposing team’s backfield. He finished the year with 31 tackles and recorded more than one tackle for a loss in five different games, ending the season with 11.5.
Williams also started on the offensive line for the Wildcats and is expected to be back in the same roles this season. The numbers may not go up due to having to share the big defensive plays with Gordy and Bazzell but with another season under their belts together, this trio should be a game changer for the Wildcats in 2019.